Evangelical Christians and Muslims meet for historic dialogue

By staff writers
16 Jan 2008

The second meeting of an Evangelical Christian-Muslim Dialogue took place in Tripoli last week, and was heralded by participants as an important step forward in understanding between two faith traditions that have often been at loggerheads.

The aim of the gathering in Libya, from 3-6 January, was to engage in conversation on the themes of “Human Nature and the Divine Presence.” The dialogue, which followed a November, 2006 gathering in Chicago, Illinois, USA, began with a welcome keynote address by Dr Muhammad Ahmed Sharif, Secretary General of the World Islamic Call Society, which hosted the interfaith event.

Themes addressed in the three-day meeting included “Sin and Forgiveness in Islamic and Evangelical Christian Thought,” “Salvation and Atonement in Christianity and Islam,” “Religious Freedom and Persecution: Our Mutual Responsibilities,” “Women and the Family,” “Human Rights and the Dignity of the Children of Adam.”

Other panels focused on citizenship and civic responsibility, racial justice, and the nature of worship in the two traditions.

Participants came from a variety of Evangelical Christian and Muslim institutions, including Evangelical colleges and universities such as Wheaton College, North Park University, Fuller Theological Seminary, and the Arab Baptist Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon, as well as national and international organizations such as World Vision International, Sojourners, Open Doors, Venture International, and Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding.

Muslim participants came from the American Islamic College, Temple University, Loyola University (Chicago), the Hartford Seminary Foundation, Lake Forest College (Illinois), and the University of Western Ontario (Canada).

Nationalities represented at the gathering included Canada, Holland, Great Britain, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, and the United States.

Participants sought to honour three principles in the dialogue: frank and honest witness to their respective faiths, without compromise; a willingness to be challenged and transformed through conversation; and a readiness to change preconceived notions and reformulate ways of thinking.

Dr Donald Wagner of North Park University in Chicago, who co-facilitated the gathering with Dr. Mahmoud Ayoub of Temple University, said the groups identified both “common ground and important differences,” and praised the participants for the “unusually candid, honest, and sensitive interchange of ideas and beliefs.”

The meeting emphasized the importance and potential of intensified efforts to expand the dialogue between Muslim and Evangelical Christian leaders and institutions around the world.

The meeting called for ongoing dialogue venues including broadening participation through awareness raising conferences and additional seminars on specific theological and contemporary justice issues that face both communities.

The conference welcomed the “A Common Word Between Us” document which was recently endorsed by over one thousand Muslim and Christian leaders.

In the last session on next steps, all participants including representatives of the World Islamic Call Society, came to a unanimous consensus on the need to continue the dialogue and widen the circle of participation in it.

Toronto Canada and Istanbul Turkey were among several venues discussed for our next meeting. The conference concluded its deliberations with a strong message of gratitude to the World Islamic Call Society and for its hospitality and facilitating local arrangements in Tripoli and the Government of Libya in hosting the event.

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With thanks and acknowledgements to Stephen Sizer

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